More and more bikes

According to one source, “there are more than a billion bicycles in the world, twice as many as automobiles. In recent years bike production has climbed to over 100 million per year (compared to 50 million cars).”

Go to  http://www.worldometers.info/bicycles/ to see up to date data on bicycle production.

One would like to think that this means that bikes are overtaking cars and that the real answer to climate change is the bicycle. Not really.

Unfortunately the usage trend may be going the other way. China is the biggest owner of bikes with over half a billion on the road. But if you have been to China lately you will have seen that roads that used to be rivers of bicycles twenty years ago are now clogged with cars.

The Japanese, Korean and Indian car manufacturers all see China as their major growth market, to say nothing of the emergence of new Chinese manufacturers.  Some facts published in the Daily Telegraph in Aug 2011:

  • In 2009, China surpassed the US as the largest auto manufacturing and consuming country in the world.
  • In 2010 China’s automobile output and sales volume both exceeded 18 million, setting a new world record.
  • Currently, there are more than 72 million private cars on the road in China, and a total of 217 million vehicles.
  • In 1999 the country had just under 4,000 miles of motorway, now it has more than 40,000 miles.
  • A total of 11 cities, including Beijing, Shenzen, Shanghai, Chengdu and Tianjin, have more than 1 million cars.
  • Beijing itself has more than 4.6 million cars, and recently introduced restrictions on the purchase and use of vehicles in an attempt to limit pollution and congestion.
  • There are now 60 private cars for every 100 families in the country.

This is happening in Africa as well. According to one estimate, there were 36,000 cars in all of Tanzania in 2001. There are now close to 30,000 cars arriving at the port of Dar Es Salaam every month and there are now 1 million registered cars in Dar Es Salaam for a population of 4 million.

Bikes never really took off in Africa the way they did in China – in spite of their popularity is some pockets. As an Economist article from 2008 said: “Africans tend to turn their back on bikes as soon as they can afford anything with an engine.”

And if you have a car you tend to use it. The widely accepted average for car use is 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year.  How many miles did you ride on your bike last year? Too many bikes sit in the garage or shed unused from one week or month to the next.

Bikes and cars also compete for the same road space. Who do you think will win? Research done in Australia shows that 87% of car/bike accidents are caused by cars.

In the UK in 2011, 107 cyclists died as a result of accidents involving motor vehicles and over 19,000 were injured. In the US in 2010, 618 died and 52,000 were injured. And these stats come from countries that take bicycle safety seriously and provide bikes lanes.  I don’t have stats for China or Africa. I don’t think I want to see them. But a month ago, here in Dar, a friend was knocked off her bike by a water truck. She is now ok. It could have been much worse. But it is symptomatic.

So what do manufacturing numbers really tell us? In general, bicycle riding is shifting from transport and work to leisure and sport. In developing countries those who can afford it leapfrog to anything with an engine as soon as they can. In emerging nations that once depended on the bike, cars are taking over. In developed nations lots of people have good intentions about getting fit. And there must be storage sheds full of bikes somewhere. What will the Martians think.

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

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